NASA announced that its engineers have developed and tested the agency’s first full-scale rotating detonation rocket engine (RDRE).
The agency said that the design could significantly change how future propulsion systems are built. The supersonic rocket engine uses detonation, with the design producing more power while using less fuel than today’s propulsion systems.
It has the potential to power both human landers and interplanetary vehicles to deep space destinations, like the moon or Mars.
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The engine was fired over a dozen times during testing conducted at the Alabama-based Marshall Space Flight Center’s East Test Area.
NASA said that the engine achieved its primary objective by demonstrating that its hardware could function for long periods of time while also withstanding the extreme heat and pressure environments generated by detonations. At full throttle, the RDRE produced more than 4,000 pounds of thrust for nearly a minute at an average chamber pressure of 622 pounds per square inch. That’s the highest pressure rating for this design on record.
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Notably, there was also the successful performance of both deep throttling and internal ignition.
“This successful demonstration brings the technology closer to being used with future flight vehicles, enabling NASA and commercial space to move more payload and mass to deep space destinations, an essential component to making space exploration more sustainable,” NASA said.
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Due to this recent success, additional work is being conducted by engineers to develop a fully reusable 10,000-pound class RDRE to identify performance benefits over traditional liquid rocket engines.